If your productivity suffered during the pandemic, you are not alone. An executive productivity advisor at Google shares her best tricks for staying on track at home and work.

By Laura Mae Martin
July 09, 2021
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An abstract image of a woman on a scale.
Credit: Illustration: Julia Bohan- Upadhyay.

When the pandemic hit, it was hard to tell if we were working at home or living at work. We took work calls while pushing strollers and helped with virtual school between back-to-back meetings. As lines blurred, parents became more eager than ever to learn strategies to manage life's demands. I was one of them.

In March 2020, my husband and I decided to operate without child care for our 1-year-old daughter, while both working full-time from home. Even as a productivity expert, I was challenged to look at things differently and learn to manage our family and my job on a new level. These learnings carried over to my coaching and training sessions as I helped Googlers navigate the pandemic and set habits to keep work and family on track.

Here are five tips that I've found to be most helpful.

Plan Before the Race Begins

I like to think of people without kids during the pandemic as marathon runners. For those who have the ability to work from home, these marathon runners now have new time in a day. Working parents or caregivers during the pandemic, on the other hand, are sprinters. We only have short bursts of time to get things done. As sprinters, the most important thing is to be laced up before the sprint.

Every Sunday, I plan out exactly what I will do during my daughter's naps, so as soon as she goes down, I get right to it! I also create a list of snack sized to-do's (15 minutes or less) so that if she decides to sleep a little longer one day, I have something else quick to get done. No time wasted!

Create Rituals to Form Habits

We all have things that we've been putting off. To get those things done, I create rituals to help them become ingrained as habits. Think of something that you do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis that you can pair with that forever postponed activity. For example, every month when I give my dog his heartworm medication, I build in a ritual of a few other monthly activities, like wiping down the inside of my fridge. I also make Sunday my day for self-care so, no matter what, after my daughter goes to bed in the evening, I do something special for myself. Usually it's a bath or a crafting activity. I've also committed to waking up 15 minutes before my daughter every morning to meditate or drink coffee and read a book. I find that these small rituals add up and help things run smoothly at home.

Give Each Day a Theme

In a work environment, I encourage people to theme their days in order to remove upfront decision-making and promote efficiency. Monday is prep day, Tuesday is for sales calls, Friday is about administrative tasks. When decision-making is removed, you're able to jump right into productivity. The same goes for meal planning at home: Meatless Monday, Takeout Tuesday, New Recipe Wednesday.

This formula can also apply to family activities. Every Tuesday evening is No Tech Tuesday in our household. This motivates us to find evening entertainment outside of tech, often by trying a new board game or puzzle. Every Saturday, we do an outdoor activity as a family. The activities/meals/events themselves change, but by having the general themes, it helps things run without a hitch. Plus kids love predictability and traditions.

Make Technology Work For You

One of the hardest parts of working from home has been navigating how technology fits into our space. While technology has its place and has certainly been a blessing to connect us with friends, family, and coworkers, it can also be our downfall. For instance, spending hours scrolling through social media when you could instead be relaxing or getting things done means technology might be working against you. On the other hand, adding to your virtual grocery list using just your voice while your hands are covered in raw egg is a time when technology is working for you. Coming up with small ways, like leaving your phone outside your room at night or having "not spot" zones in your home where technology is not allowed, can help keep technology as it should be: a tool that works for you to get more done.

Balance is the New Busy

Before the pandemic hit, there was a "busy is cool" culture. Sure, it still exists, but it's lessened as we've been forced to slow down. The pandemic has shown us, as Winnie the Pooh once said, that "doing nothing often leads to the very best of something." Productivity is just like a rubber band: you have to pull back and stop in order to launch forward with power. Down time is productive time. The moments in between are often the best moments. I've started to shift my attitude and my language from busy toward balance. I have a good amount of activities, work, time to myself, time with my family, and that can be "cool" too.

As Google Executive Productivity Advisor, Laura Mae Martin spends her days coaching Google executives to be more productive in their busy lives—advising them on how to manage their meetings, email, time, and energy, with the ultimate goal of improving their well-being. While working at Google in various sales and administration roles, she spent her 20 percent time (which Googlers can use to work on a passion project within the company) to advise Google executives on productivity tips in Gmail and other tools. She leads a team of 15 people that trains employees throughout the company on how to be more productive at work and in everyday life.